14 June 2009

Nobody knows the trouble we'll see …

John Maxwell

The British have some intriguing and utterly inexplicable national idiosyncrasies that confound and alarm outsiders. One such is the tendency, from time to time, for discrete sectors of the society to explode into fits of self-righteous self-abnegation accompanied by the shrill screams of journalists and other domestic prophets, apparently transfixed by visions of the most appalling doom and calling for important human sacrifices to forestall the baleful destiny about to overwhelm them.
For most of the last two weeks, if one believed the heavyweight British press, Prime Minister Gordon Brown was just seconds away from political hara kiri, pushed to the verge by the well-timed and apparently selfless resignations of some of his ministers, resignations, like banderillas in a bullfight, meant to madden and enrage the bull beyond endurance, forcing him to self-destruction.
It didn't work.
The British Prime Minister, more like an ancient Aurochs than the modern toro bravo,is a stolid Scots bull not easily impressed by commentators' frothing at the mouth or journalists fleeing from rationality. The excitement was an attempt by the Blairite yuppie wing of the Labour party to seize control of the one-time working class political machine, thus completing a Blairite/Thatcherite capture of the engine-room of British politics.
The problem for them is that the Thatcherite counter-reformation has been everywhere discredited and, that without Gordon Brown, the plundered British economy would have been heading toward Argentina and the IMF even faster than it now seems to be.
Britain's economy is now, probably thanks to Brown, the only significant European economy showing any sign of recovery. Even the Scandinavians, relatively insulated from the capitalist melt-down, have found their residual social democratic social infrastructure under threat from economies they tried to help, like Latvia and the other soi-disant Baltic "Tigers". Professor Steve Hanke's divinely inspired Currency Boards are failing, just like the Central Banks whose faults they supposedly abolish. Latvia, the former darling of the investors has announced that it expects GDP to fall by 18% this year. That's even worse than Jamaica.
The problem in Latvia, Ireland, Iceland, the United States and in Jamaica is that our economic systems depend on the untenable assumption that we must grow in order to survive.
There is a very eminent economist named Herman Daly whose work I have mentioned before and who, for most of his life, has argued for the economics of steady-state development. Daly, who is 4 years younger than I, is the founder of what we call ecological economics or steady-state economics.
He has worked for decades in proposing a steady state economy, and for policies to guide society towards a stable population, a constant material standard of living, and an equitable distribution of wealth.

"The goal of a steady state is to sustain a constant, sufficient stock of real wealth and people for a long time. No one denies that our problems would be easier to solve if we were richer. The question is, does growth any longer make us richer, or is it now making us poorer?"

For Daly and other ecologists, the biosphere, the thin planetary skin of soil,water and air that sustains us is the ultimate determinant of our behaviour. Since matter can neither be created nor destroyed, positive growth is possible in one place only if there is corresponding negative growth somewhere else. When bankers "create" wealth by extending credit nothing material is actually produced; what is created is a bubble.
If we take any living system, for instance a human body like yours or mine, we will find that optimal health does not depend on perpetual growth but on maintaining a careful balance in all dimensions. Human beings, whales, mahogany trees, coral polyps, bacteria and crocodiles all start small, as single cells, and achieve maturity when they cease growing, reproduce themselves and in time, return to the carbon cycle – ashes to ashes, etc.
The only organisms which insist on an untrammeled right to grow are cancers and capitalist organisations like banks. But since banks do not actually create anything except demand and notional obligations, the wealth "created" cannot have any validity unless it is necessarily extracted by parasitism of one kind or another or what some economists call 'rent' and others, 'surplus value'.
Various ecologists have calculated that we are living beyond our resources, that to sustain our notional wealth we are running a deficit in our account with the biosphere – we are extracting more than we can replace. Our consumption of oil currently allows some of us to live at an extravagant level which will disappear when the oil runs out.
It has been calculated that to live indefinitely – even at our current unsatisfactory per capita standard – we need the resources of an additional planet. If all of us were to live like Americans we would require the resources of two additional uninhabited planets.
In Jamaica, wealth was "created" over the centuries from slave labour or, to put it more accurately, the plantation system was simply the theft of the labour value of the slaves and its conversion into bills of exchange, stock exchanges and palaces like Versailles.
The fact is that half a millennium after Columbus began the ecological and cultural devastation of the "New World" we are still depending on the superstitions of capitalist theocracy. Our estimable Minister of Finance a few weeks ago appealed to the Caribbean Development Bank "to play a pivotal role in securing the economic transformation of the region."
He was speaking in the Turks & Caicos, which some suspect is itself another kind of bubble.
"The global economic crisis does not only pose severe challenges to member countries, but it also creates opportunities for doing things in new, innovative and better ways, and the CDB is well positioned to anchor these new and necessary initiatives,"
Mr Shaw cited the fresh- and processed-foods sectors as one area that offers vast potential for expansion as the markets in tourism and the Caribbean Diaspora offer many opportunities through linkages and the demand for ethnic foods.
Most Third world politicians and bureaucrats would find no fault with Mr Shaw's analysis, nor would I, if there were any prospect of it working.
Why, with millions of hungry visitors to feed, is Jamaica not straining to feed them?
Were we to produce twice as much food as we do now we could not satisfy the demand from our visitors.
And you ask me why we are poor?
Mr Shaw's prescriptions depend on the mobilisation of finance capital, whose owners' charge expensive rents. And the technology? We've been there before, with private entrepreneurs making nice returns fifty years ago in garments and building materials and even in the canning and export of food. And then they retire to Bermuda or Cayman to enjoy a well-earned retirement, ready to rent their Jamaican- derived capital.
We are mobilising the big money battalions, to capture the beaches of Portland, Trelawny Hanover and the South coast making them off limits to Jamaicans. We are planning to make Falmouth a gated apartheid city at a proposed cost of more than US$150 million to provide day trippers with cheap water, sewage processing and the opportunity to fondle imported wild animals. We could use half of this same money to do what the British are doing installing machines to generate power from ocean currents and cutting fossil fuel imports.
On what basis does any government justify such perverse decisions?
Where is the EIA?
If we are to borrow money it seems to me wise to invest that money in ways that will continue to pay back, in human skills and production.
Jamaica is probably the most favourable site in the world for producing power from ocean currents, being in the middle of one of the world's most powerful currents, the North Equatorial Current and its associated systems from the Orinoco and the Amazon. Offshore from Manchioneal to Port Antonio we have perfect sites for wind powered turbines. The breeze – the North-east Trade winds – the people tell me, never stops blowing.
We have the opportunity to put people back on the land, to rehabilitate Jamaican land and farming and to produce the food we are very soon not going to be able to buy.
We won't be able to buy it either because we will not be able to afford it, or, second, even if we could afford it, it will not be available.
That's when we will begin to understand the reality of the police state.
We need to mobilise our people, rich, poor and in between, to understand that we need each other, and that if we are not ready to help each other there is no help for us, no matter how many bankers we know.
Don't say I didn't tell you.
Copyright©2009 John Maxwell

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